People have been sharing their memories of the much-loved Queen Elizabeth. A former colleague went to Buckingham Palace to receive an award for her work with young entrepreneurs. Dressed in her best outfit and killer heels, she was very nervous as her name was called. What does one say to Her Majesty? After the initial greeting and responding to the Queen’s favourite line of “have you come far?”, she was tongue tied about how to follow up. She found herself blurting out “did you know there are more CEOs called John than there are women running the top companies?”. A moment of stunned silence. Then the Queen threw back her head and laughed. It may not have been the best follow up, but at least she didn’t diss the corgis.
You’ve got an introduction to your hot corporate prospect, but you need to know more about them. After the broader questions about their business priorities, how do you dig deeper to find if they’re the right partner for you? You need some qualifying questions that will get to the gold nuggets of information buried below. A sales method developed by IBM called BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs and Timeline) can be a useful checklist to get the answers you need.
You need to know if they’ve got budget for a partnership and what their appetite might be. They may be a large, profitable company on the surface, but misers with their CSR budget. Best you find out early. You don’t want to be pitching a Ferrari to someone with budget for a Holden Barina.
Some useful questions:
- Which financial year do you work to?
- Where are you in the budgeting process right now? (i.e they could be rebudgeting, already locked it away for this year or planning ahead for the next financial year)
- Do you currently have a budget allocated for community partnerships/ CSR?
- How much have you previously committed to similar partnerships?
The person you’re meeting with may not be the ultimate decision maker. In many large companies there is a hierarchy for approvals, and you may need to deal with different people to get a partnership over the line. Smaller private companies are much easier to deal with, as you can get to the owner/ founder quicker and they make the decision rather than a multi-step approval process.
Some useful questions:
- Tell me about the decision-making process in your company?
- Is there anyone else we need to include in future discussions about a partnership?
- Who will make the final decision on a partnership like this?
- What can I do to help you to get a final decision on this partnership?
This is an important area where you get to the heart of what matters to your prospect. Qualifying questions identify the corporate’s pain points and priorities and will help you shape the partnership. You can’t be the solution to their needs if you don’t know what they are. You need to do your desktop research and develop a hypothesis or hunch about their needs so you can guide the discussion. You can also feed in insights that you’ve gleaned from other partnerships to show that you’re a credible and informed potential partner.
Some key questions:
- What are your biggest priorities right now?
- What are your current challenges? What’s the squeaky wheel in your organisation that hasn’t been resolved?
- What’s happening in the external environment that’s affecting your business?
- One of the most common issues we’re hearing about is . Is this an issue for you? (This is an opportunity to mention something that you’ve gleaned from your research, such as staff retention, customer engagement, brand positioning etc)
Of course, you’d love a juicy corporate partnership sooner rather than later. But you’ll need to be aware of the corporate prospect’s preferred timeline or you risk pushing too hard at the wrong times. Your boss may have set a KPI that expires in a few months, but your corporate may be thinking 18 months ahead.
Some key questions:
- How long have you been struggling with this issue? (i.e one of the pain points you’ve identified earlier)
- How important is it to address this issue now?
- Are there any important deadlines I should be aware of? (this could be a board meeting, investor briefing, brand launch etc)
- What’s your ideal timeframe for making a decision? For starting a new partnership?
You’ve done the hard work in identifying the right prospects and finding a way into the introductory meeting. Use the qualifying questions to help you dig out the nuggets of information that you need to shape a partnership and find out how to progress the conversation. Be prepared and you won’t have to fall back on talking about the corgis.